What Is Comorbid Depression?
By Jon Jaehnig
Updated February 28, 2020
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with comorbid depression, it can seem like a scary and uncertain time. However, any diagnosis is a way forward to potential help and treatment that wasn't possible before. Further, comorbid depression can mean several things, as we will discuss throughout the rest of this article.
Everyone feels down sometimes. However, some people have times in which they feel down for extended periods. For people with depression, feelings of sadness, or hopelessness that are so extreme that they are unable to work, live their normal lives or maintain healthy relationships.
Depression can be. A caused by chemical imbalances. In the brain, traumatic life experiences, or a combination of the two. It is usually treated through medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two.
In case of depression wasn't bad enough; many people with depression experience other conditions at the same time. These conditions, called "comorbid conditions," can change how depression manifests and how it is treated.
In regular conversation, "morbid" is usually used to mean "dark," "grim," or "sinister." However, in a medical context, "comorbid" just means "happening at the same time."
Depending on the condition, diagnosing comorbid conditions can be easy or hard. Sometimes, conditions often go together so diagnosing one of them can lead to a better understanding of the individual's overall health. Other times, however, comorbid conditions result in a wide variety of symptoms - or symptoms that manifest in different ways - making it more difficult for medical teams to make any diagnosis at all.
Once a comorbid condition is diagnosed, it can also change the path of treatment. Sometimes comorbid conditions arise from similar causes and can be treated with the same or similar medications. In other cases, the diagnosis of comorbid conditions will complicate treatment because common medications for the different conditions will not blend well.
It is very important for people with comorbid conditions to make sure that everyone that they see for treatment knows all of the medications involved, especially if the individual sees different healthcare providers to manage their different conditions.
One of the most common conditions to be comorbid with depression is anxiety. This is for psychological as well as biological reasons.
Both anxiety and depression can be caused by imbalances of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. As a result, similar - or sometimes the same - drugs are used to treat both anxiety and depression. Once again, however, it is important that all of a patient's care providers know all prescriptions that a person is taking. Anxiety and depression are both commonly treated with talk therapy, but this is not a potential problem in the way that medication can be.
As mentioned above, anxiety and depression can also cause one another for psychological reasons. When a person is depressed, they may be unable to keep up with their commitments and responsibilities, leading to increased feelings of anxiety. Similarly, anxiety can make everyday tasks feel like they are more stressful or difficult than they are, which can lead to increased feelings of depression. The good news is that if a person with comorbid anxiety and depression is diagnosed with and treated for one of the disorders, it can alleviate symptoms of the other.
Another condition that is often comorbid with depression is alcoholism. As is the case with anxiety, this can happen for chemical as well as for psychological reasons.
Many people drink alcohol as a way of self-medicating for other conditions, including anxiety and depression, which can lead to alcoholism.
The calming effects of alcohol are largely the result of its action on dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that leads to feelings of relaxation and pleasure. When neurotransmitter receptors are overestimated, they become less effective. In the case of alcohol, this means that more and more dopamine (or alcohol) is required to cause the feelings of relaxation and pleasure. In this way, alcohol can cause depression by changing the chemistry of the brain.
Either of these paths can lead the individual to a point at which they feel that they need to drink to avoid feelings of depression, but drinking makes them feel depressed.
Treatment for alcoholism depends on the individual and the severity of the case. Sometimes it involves therapy either to cope with life after alcohol or to treat the underlying causes or comorbid conditions. More often, it involves free, community-based resources. Further, treatment of severe alcoholism may include medication to prevent withdrawal symptoms or severe depression. As a result, individuals undergoing treatment for alcoholism and depression need to make sure that their entire healthcare team knows about all of the prescriptions that they are taking. Even if an individual is only undergoing treatment for depression, they may need to quit drinking to lessen their depression and to prevent interactions between alcohol and any medications that they may be taking. Drinking alcohol while taking medication for depression may make the medication less effective, or may worsen side effects.
Many people with autism spectrum disorders also experience depression. Experts are at odds as to why this could be, partially because the causes of autism are spectrum disorder is still uncertain. Some believe that autism spectrum disorder and depression could have similar causes like depression and anxiety do. Others believe that depression and anxiety that people with autism spectrum disorder often experience are the result of the difficulties that are living with autism spectrum disorder can cause.
Some medications can help with symptoms of autism spectrum disorder that can also lessen issues with other disorders, including depression. As always, it is important that the individual inform all members of their healthcare team of all medications that they are taking.
Talk therapy cannot cure autism spectrum disorder, but individuals with the condition may undergo talk therapy to learn more about their condition and how to manage its symptoms, which potentially extends to feelings of depression.
As mentioned above, sometimes having comorbid conditions can make things more difficult for a healthcare team because multiple symptoms can manifest simultaneously or symptoms can manifest in different ways. However, sometimes, it is very easy for a healthcare team to diagnose comorbid conditions precisely because they often go together.
For example, someone diagnosed with autism may be screened for anxiety and depression. Someone's alcoholism may only seem like a problem when they are diagnosed with depression, or their depression diagnosis may make their alcoholism make sense to them for the very first time.
Even when you know what a comorbid condition is, being diagnosed with one can seem scary, especially if you had known that you had one of the conditions. After all, that can make it seem like you now have twice as much to deal with. For other people, the diagnosis of a comorbid condition can be just as freeing as the original diagnosis because it lets them know that there is a reason for their struggle, the struggle is not their fault, and they have access to help.
Life With Comorbid Depression
This is the section of most of these articles where I would write about what life with the condition is supposed to be like, what treatment could look like, or even how an individual could try to improve their lot in life. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what's going to happen here.
There are a lot of conditions that occur along with depression, and each one of them changes the way that the individual experiences life. Life with depression and alcoholism is very different from life with depression and anxiety or depression and autism.
The important thing is to know that whatever the diagnosis is, it isn't your fault and there is hope for a better life.
Finding Help For Comorbid Depression
Throughout this article, I've put a lot of emphasis on the fact that different medications for different conditions and different medications can interact in different and sometimes dangerous ways. However, one treatment for depression and all of the other conditions in this article is talk therapy. Talk therapy often works better with medications, it doesn't have any negative side effects, and it doesn't cause problems when mixed with other treatments.
Chances are, when you are diagnosed with depression and or any of the other conditions discussed above, the care provider will provide information on available talk therapy resources available in the community. Unfortunately, an individual's schedule, location, and ability to pay can impact their available options when it comes to talking therapy.
That's where BetterHelp comes in. In addition to publishing educational articles like this one, BetterHelp keeps a staff of thousands of certified and professional therapists and counselors. These mental health experts are available to meet with patients over the internet. This allows people in rural areas to access quality mental health care without the need to travel. It is also more comfortable and more affordable than meeting a counselor or therapist in person.
For more information about how meeting with a professional and licensed counselor or therapist can help you or someone close to you, visit https://www.BetterHelp.com/online-therapy.